Last week, China Digital, an IT services and electronics distributor, officially announced the new BlackBerry Curve 8910 smartphone along with Canadian handset-maker Research In Motion (RIM).
The Curve 8910 is currently available in China at an exorbitant price: roughly $760, on top of monthly service fees, the Edmonton Journal says. The older model BlackBerry Curve 8310 is also reportedly available for about $570.
But those sky-high costs aren’t even the worst part; neither China Telecom nor China Mobile, two Chinese wireless carriers, are currently offering RIM’s BlackBerry Internet Service (BIS), which enables consumer e-mail and routes messages and other data through RIM’s Canadian network operations center (NOC), the report says.
In other words, China Telecom and China Mobile customers can purchase a BlackBerry Curve and place phone calls. They can use the device to shoot pictures with its digital camera. Or employ the smartphone’s address book to store contacts, etc. But what they can’t do is easily setup consumer e-mail services like Gmail or Hotmail to work with their BlackBerry devices, like the rest of the BlackBerry-toting world.
And no BIS also very likely means no Web surfing, as well, though the Edmonton Journal article is unclear on this point. The report also says that both wireless carriers have provided “tips on how you might get around the restriction,” though neither will comment on why BIS isn’t available.
Chinese BlackBerry Enterprise Server (BES) users, or business users with devices connected to corporate BlackBerry infrastructure, are reportedly able to send and receive e-mail without issue, so the problem appears to be specific to BIS or consumer BlackBerry users, according to the report.
Rumors suggest the Chinese government’s ongoing hesitance to allow BlackBerry smartphones in its country could be related to its past history of censorship and a desire to have access to any and all electronic communications sent and/or received by Chinese users, which RIM wouldn’t provide.
The lack of BIS in China could relate to this issue, though neither carrier nor RIM has released an official comment on the situation.
I don’t know about you, but a BlackBerry without e-mail is like an automobile without tires to me. If I can’t get behind the wheel, turn the key and start the engine, the whole thing is mostly worthless.
So while RIM’s BlackBerry smartphones may be widely available overseas in China, without true BlackBerry service, they’re still really just shiny status symbols like the BlackBerrys crafty Chinese entrepreneurs have been importing from other markets for years. In fact, those black-market BlackBerry dealers probably offer a much better device selection….
From RIM’s managing director for China, Gregory Shea:
“We believe the powerful and easy-to-use BlackBerry Curve 8910 will help convince many more people in China to give up their traditional cell phone and upgrade to a BlackBerry smartphone,” he said in a press release.
To that I say, Mr. Shea, how about, you know, offering a BlackBerry device that actually “works” in China? I realize the availability, or lack thereof, of BlackBerry consumer e-mail service in China probably has a lot more to do with the Chinese government than RIM. But still, if the Canadian BlackBerry-maker hopes to gain any kind of significant foothold in the market, it’s going to have to ensure basic BlackBerry services like BIS are available to the people willing to pay for them.
If the Chinese government doesn’t allow that…well, BlackBerry smartphones may not be long for the Chinese market.
Al Sacco was a journalist, blogger and editor who covers the fast-paced mobile beat for CIO.com and IDG Enterprise, with a focus on wearable tech, smartphones and tablet PCs. Al managed CIO.com writers and contributors, covered news, and shared insightful expert analysis of key industry happenings. He also wrote a wide variety of tutorials and how-tos to help readers get the most out of their gadgets, and regularly offered up recommendations on software for a number of mobile platforms. Al resides in Boston and is a passionate reader, traveler, beer lover, film buff and Red Sox fan.